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An analytical ethnography of sickness absence in an English primary school

Prout, Alan

An analytical ethnography of sickness absence in an English primary school Thumbnail


Alan Prout


Medical sociology has characteristically dealt with children as inactive In the processes of their own illness and health. In part this reflects the treatment of children in sociology generally. It Is intensified by typically studying childhood sickness from the point of view of clinical settings where children's active role and voice are muted. There Is a tendency to ignore the wider social context sickness in children's own lives, especially schooling. It Is suggested that an ethnography of sickness absence, and children's part in its production, might begin to remedy some of these problems. The remainder of the thesis reports such a study. The fieldwork for the study took place in a primary school and looked at sickness absence among a class of fourth year children in the term immediately preceding their transition to secondary school. A variety of methods were used, including direct observation and interviews with parents, teachers and children. The material gathered is described in five parts:
a) the social lives of children at school
b) children's accounts of sickness and absence
c) parent's (mainly maternal) accounts
d) teacher perspectives and practices on sickness and absence
e) the overall pattern of sickness absence during the term and its relationship to rhythms of schoolwork, especially as they concerned the transition to secondary school. The final chapter discusses childhood sickness as a cultural performance. The 'stage' for this performance is the transition to secondary school and the constitution of childhood in the age-grades of the schooling system. Two theoretical frameworks are used to approach the notion of performance: that of 'trajectory', suggested by Strauss et al; and that of 'symbolic transitional process', derived from Turner's work on liminality. Children's performance of sickness is understood in relation to ideologies and practices of work, gender and leisure.

Publication Date Jan 1, 1986


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